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CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids Xavier celebrated and urged head coach Austin Filer to join a postgame photo.
When players and parents chanted his name, it fell on deaf ears and failed to persuade him. Instead he offered a quick word of advice to them and stepped away from their pose.
“I want to set our sights high,” Filer said. “The success of the girls is not my own, and I want everyone to understand that it is their hard work, mentality and growth that is happening. I’m just a catalyst to help them move in the right direction, but it’s about them.”
The Saints continued a substantial turnaround season Saturday. When a failed block landed out of bounds for the winning point, Class 4A sixth-ranked Xavier edged 5A No. 10 Linn-Mar, 25-23, 12-25, 15-13, in the finals of the Warrior Invitational at Cedar Rapids Washington.
The Saints improved to 8-0 after a 15-22 mark a year ago. They knocked off the Lions twice and earned a semifinal sweep over 5A fifth-ranked Johnston.
“We have really bonded and have come together,” Xavier outside hitter Charlotte Richards said. “We have played as one team. I think all our intensity and effort on the court just comes together when the teamwork is there.”
Linn-Mar seemed to take control in the third with a 4-1 lead coming off a dominant second set. The Saints stormed back for a 10-6 lead, two kills apiece from Richards and Jessica Callahan. Richards seemed to produce in the clutch for the Saints.
“Charlotte is a fantastic player,” Filer said. “She’s a great leader for our team. She does the intangibles for our team.
“A lot of people will see the kills, blocks and aces, but they don’t see the leadership she provides and the mentality she has.”
Linn-Mar refused to concede, getting a kill from Carly Spies and two blocks from Megan Renner to pull within 14-13. The Saints regrouped and took advantage of a miscue for the last point.
“I think not understanding how high of a level we have to play, how consistent we have to be and how much respect we have to have for our opponent that they’re going to score and we need to get right back into our mentality of taking care of our business,” Filer said. “I’m losing some sleep at night, getting some gray hair and balding a little bit, because of it. I see progress and growth. I think they are starting to understand that this is a game of runs and stopping runs. I think we did a better job of taking care of that.”
Xavier jumped to a big start in the first set, scoring 10 straight points for a 10-1 lead including two kills by Richards and two aces from Lexi Noonan. The Lions battled back to tie it at 22 apiece. The teams exchanged points before consecutive kills from Richards and Ellie McDermott closed the opening set.
Linn-Mar (7-3) overwhelmed the Saints in the second, notching 14 points in a 17-point stretch for a 15-6 lead. The Lions closed with seven of the last eight points to even the match.
The championship nearly mirrored the pool-match that Xavier won, 21-14, 14-21, 15-12.
“We definitely have our ups and downs, but we never give up,” Richards said. “We always play 110 percent until it’s completely over.”
Xavier reached the finals with a 26-24, 25-20 victory over the Dragons. The Saints fell in a 4-0 hole to start and didn’t take their first lead until Emily Jasper’s kill made it 25-24.
“I have nothing but respect for Johnston and Linn-Mar for pushing us to the brim,” Filer said. “It tested us. It made us a little bit better. I’m excited to see what next Monday on the practice gym looks like.”
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